Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Ned Ludd enters the General Election - a response to 'Yorkshire First'

Over on his website, the 'Yorkshire First' candidate for Colne Valley in the forthcoming General Election - Paul Salveson - has bizarrely inserted a little piece about the Luddites. It's actually a refreshing change to see their name mentioned during the bicentenary in the midst of this political campaign. But there are numerous problems with it, which I've tried to respond to in a comment I've left. I've decided to publish it here for posterity.

Firstly, here's Paul's piece from his website:
The Luddites: right or wrong?

Over 200 years on, the Luddites still attract controversy. They were a group of working men driven to desperate measures by ‘structural adjustment’: their livelihoods were threatened by the introduction of the factory system and they were being un-ceremonially thrown on the scrapheap. A bit like the miners in 1984. Starve or resist were the two options and they chose the latter. Democracy was non-existent and they couldn’t appeal to ‘their MP’ for help because they had no voice. It was another 20 years before there was even a very modest extension of the franchise to sections of the middle-class. Most of the actions undertaken by the Luddites involved damage to equipment, not violence towards people. There was one isolated incident when a deeply unpopular Marsden mill-owner, William Horsfall, was assassinated on Blackmoorfoot Road. Several men were executed but the actual assassins were probably never caught. The killing gave the authorities the excuse they needed to install a reign of terror across the Colne Valley and West Riding, with more executions. The memory of the judicial murders of the Colne Valley Luddites remained in the folk-memory for decades after. It’s good that they are still recalled. Killing people is wrong, but destroying entire communities isn’t very ethical either.
And here's my response:
Got to be honest - this is the oddest election pitch I've ever seen, bringing up the Luddites. But anyway, there's a few aspects of your piece here that could do with straightening out, as there are some errors.

To answer your title, the Luddites were clearly *right*

Firstly, the various groups of workers in the 'Luddite Triangle' had actually mounted political lobbying campaigns for years prior to the adoption of direct action. It's difficult to see what difference 'having an MP' would have made or, indeed, what difference having one makes nowadays to zero-hour contracts, low pay, cuts etc. We need direct action to deal with these issues as social democracy is dedicated to facilitating capitalism's worst efforts to attack the gains made by workers over the last 200 years. All the main parties - and most of the minor ones - are dedicated to propping up this rotten system.

I'm afraid you're wholly wrong to state that the assassination (for that's what it was) of Horsfall was an 'isolated incident' In fact, between 1812/1813, there were at least 11 assassination attempts that we know of (I can list them all if required) in the West Riding, including bold attacks in daylight on the likes of William Cartwright (of Rawfolds Mill), informers, police constables and a senior military commander in Leeds.

There *was* a great deal of violence involved in Luddism. They were not pacifists, and I feel no need to paint things otherwise, and I'm bound to say *good for them*. None of it matched the wholesale violence (for that's what it was) that was being meted out to working people in terms of the attacks on their way of life, livelihood and that of future generations.

Your piece also seems to have forgotten that there were a huge numbers of raids for arms mounted in the period after the assassination of Horsfall. Plans for *something* was afoot, and it wasn't going to be peaceful - although it ultimately never arrived. There's simply no evidence to support the idea that Luddism lost support because Horsfall was shot. The switch to arms raids indicates a change of tactics, perhaps because under the change in military leadership around July 1812, the area was swamped with patrolling troops.

And whilst I would agree that there is plenty of evidence that Mellor, Thorpe & Smith were not guilty of killing Horsfall (I've examined this in detail on my site), I've little doubt they thought he had it coming, as did probably most people in the West Riding. The 'but someone else did it' line was irrelevant to Mellor, Thorpe & Smith - they probably knew who did it, but wouldn't tell and died martyrs. These are supreme acts of solidarity.

The authorities were already mounting a 'reign of terror' in the area, well before Horsfall was shot. It was a military occupation, and this was guerrilla warfare. Horsfall's shooting couldn't give an excuse for something that was taking place before he died.

Finally, your use of 'Luddite as technophobe' trope under 'Can you help?' is disappointing, and proves that there is much education still to be done about our comrades from 200 years ago.

1 comment:

  1. We all need education, it's an on-going thing. Generally I think you're trying to find areas of disagreement for its sake, which is a bit sad, instead of contributing constructive criticism.